Psalm 55:9–15; Job 32,33; 1 Corinthians 7:17–24

Psalm 55:9–15: Our psalmist is asking God to deliver some seriously bad consequences on the evil-doers who have created hate an dissension in the city (Jerusalem?). Once again we encounter the predominance of speech as both the source of wrongdoing and the instrument of punishment:
O Master, confound, split their tongue,
for I have seen outrage and strife in the town;
day and night they go round on its walls,
and mischief and misdeeds within it,
disaster within it,
guile and deceit never part from its square.” (10-12)

I doubt we could find a more perfect description of the bloviation of politicians and other power-seekers within Washington DC than right here in these trenchant verses.

By this time, our psalmist has regained his personal courage even in the face of all this wrongdoing:
No enemy insults me, that I might bear it,
no foe boasts against me, that I might hide from him.” (13)

We encounter a sudden shift in the psalm’s focus as the poet suddenly describes what I take to be a personal betrayal by a former friend as he recalls the far better times from their past relationship:
But you—a man to my measure,
my companion and my familiar,
with whom together we shared sweet counsel,
in  the house of our God in elation we walked.” (14, 15)

There’s some ambiguity here. Has this man joined the pack of evil-doers? Or is this recollection simply a non-sequitur stuck in the middle of this psalm?

Job 32,33: Our author provides some background for the next speech. Elihu is younger than Job and his three friends. And he is having a serious problem with Job’s last speech: “He was angry at Job because he justified himself rather than God; he was angry also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, though they had declared Job to be in the wrong.” (32:2,3) But anger trumps politeness as Elihu lets them all have it in his speech that occupies these two chapters.

Elihu is disillusioned, thinking that age brings wisdom, but concludes after all the other speeches that “It is not the old  that are wise,/ nor the aged that understand what is right.” (32:9) He seems to be addressing the three friends first, dismissing their various empty arguments re the cause of Job’s suffering, observing that “there was in fact no one that confuted Job,/no one among you that answered his words.” (12)

So, with these preliminaries out of the way, Elihu is ready to offer his own opinion:
I also will give my answer;
    I also will declare my opinion.
For I am full of words;

    the spirit within me constrains me.
My heart is indeed like wine that has no vent;
    like new wineskins, it is ready to burst.” (17-19)

Job is Elihu’s primary target although he approaches his elder somewhat gingerly:
See, before God I am as you are;
    I too was formed from a piece of clay.
No fear of me need terrify you;
    my pressure will not be heavy on you.” (33:6,7)

Elihu opines that Job has set himself up as being equal to God, a position he thoroughly rejects:
But in this you are not right. I will answer you:
    God is greater than any mortal.
Why do you contend against him,
    saying, ‘He will answer none of my words’?” (33:12,13)

He goes on to describe how he believes God speaks to people through dreams and nightmares:
In a dream, in a vision of the night,
    when deep sleep falls on mortals,
    while they slumber on their beds,
then he opens their ears,

    and terrifies them with warnings,
that he may turn them aside from their deeds,
    and keep them from pride” (33:15-18)

Elihu asserts that pain is another one of God motivational tools:
They are also chastened with pain upon their beds,
    and with continual strife in their bones,” (33:19)

But if people repent then good things happen as “he prays to God, and is accepted by him,/ he comes into his presence with joy,/and God repays him for his righteousness.” (26) Which is exactly the approach the Pharisees took in Jesus’ day—and we know how well that didn’t work out.

But Elihu is certainly convinced of his own wisdom and he (rather arrogantly, IMHO) challenges Job:
If you have anything to say, answer me;
    speak, for I desire to justify you.
If not, listen to me;
    be silent, and I will teach you wisdom.” (33:32-33)

Really, Elihu? Do you think you are so smart? We’ll see.

1 Corinthians 7:17–24: Paul counsels Christians to accept our circumstances and status as individuals: “let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you.” (17) Not surprisingly he uses the example of circumcision, which at his time was a major controversy. His point is simple: it’s too easy to focus on relatively trivial issues when in fact “obeying the commandments of God is everything.” (19)

Paul’s underlying point is that we can be effective Christians whatever our position, even slaves. Should a slave gain his freedom, Paul continues, “make use of your present condition now more than ever.” (21) From a Christian perspective, “a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ.” (22)

While we may have a difficult time dealing with a slave/free antithesis, it’s clear that we are all equal in Christ, regardless of our social status. Unfortunately, this truth is as hard for us modern Christians to accept as it was for the Corinthians. We see this non-equality on full display in churches where the homeless are less than welcome in worship.

Paul asks us to accept our circumstances. Does this mean that we should not run for Church Council because we’re not a natural leader? Or that we cannot sing in the choir (or play in the band) because we are not professional musicians? I’m curious to see where Paul takes this argument in the upcoming chapter.

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